Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Feb 23 12:14:19 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #19

%T Mars -- The Red Planet
%A Mick Farren
%I Del Rey/Ballantine
%D March 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 315
%G 0-345-35809-0

In the Phaid duology and Protectorate, Mick Farren demonstrated a deft hand at gritty, cinema-verite scene-setting. Unfortunately, he also demonstrated a penchant for plots that are such stone bummers that I promised myself I'd never darken my eyeballs with his prose again.

Well, I relented. And I wish I could say he's changed. But no, it's the same old Farrenplot -- a bunch of repulsive losers struggle against each other on the mean streets of an unhappy future, the likeable characters die horribly, and at the wrapup humanity is screwed over by alien forces beyond anyone's control.

The viewpoint character in the opening sequence is a serial killer who murders and mutilates prostitutes to feed the bloodlust of an alien mind parasite. It seems there's a thing in the Martian desert that drives men mad; and the KGB, who runs a chunk of the Red Planet (get it, nyuk nyuk nyuk?) and isn't having any of that greasy perestroika kid stuff, has the tightest security blanket in the Solar System over it.

Intrepid newshawk Lech Hammond lands on Mars looking for a hot story and smells this one. Several establishing shots of claustrophobic colony warrens and whacked-out cowboy prospectors later, he hits the desert with a cameraman, a sidekick, and the required crusty old-timer. Meanwhile, a local clone of Matt Dillon and the Soviet colony's blond-sexpot militia chief are running a police-procedural on the "Martian Ripper". And the U.S. Marines assemble a mission team to crack the Soviet base that includes -- you guessed it -- the killer.

Hammond and his merry crew spend most of the novel boozing, bickering, and, uh, interacting with a trio of sleazy hookers. The sexpot gets packed off to the local Gulag, and the town marshal chases off after her. The Marine mission team heads for the Soviet base.

Eventually, they all collide with each other and the alien artifact. Every nasty consequence you can imagine ensues, and the human race is stuck with a spreading psychic plague that nobody could have prevented anyhow. The end.

I'm not opposed to down endings on principle, but it takes more wisdom that Farren seems to be able to muster to make this one meaningful. I didn't learn or grow from the pain Farren put his characters through, and you won't either. The message seems to be "Give up. Your struggles are futile. The good die young. There is no exit." Feh...

I dislike paying money for books like this and I'm sorry I bought this one. Ironically, it showed up in the mail a day later in my very first freebie- list package. Now I've got two copies to mulch. Sigh...

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Feb 23 12:14:19 EST 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>